Friday, 6 April 2012

6th April 1812: Food riot at Carlisle

The Caledonian Mercury of Monday 13th of April 1812 carried an article the Carlisle Journal had published 2 days earlier about the disturbances that took place in Carlisle on Monday 6th April 1812:

Recent disturbances in Carlisle, &c.
(From the Carlisle Journal, April 11.)

In treating this subject, it is our intention merely to state the leading facts.

On Saturday last the bread corn was bought up, in a very few minutes; consequently many of the heads of families were disappointed, and obliged to return home empty. Apprehensions being entertained that the same agents were work in buying up the potatoes, some cart loads were seized by the populace, who sold them at reduced prices. Early on Monday morning, great quantities of grain were conveyed from the depots of the corn buyers to the port of Sandsfield, five miles distant. The populace, unable to endure the sight of so much grain passing by their doors, whilst themselves and families were at the point of starvation, proceeded to the vessels, impressed several carts, loaded them, and were about to return, when the Magistrates and the soldiers of the 55th arrived. We understand, that the Magistrates, after having promised, that the markets in future should be duly regulated, and the proposition of advancing the wages of the manufacturing poor should have their consideration, succeeded in conciliating the populace, who relinquished their booty, and return peaceably home.

A little before seven in the evening, the military entered the city with drums beating, &c. (a ceremony which, in our opinion, had better have been dispensed with) when a woman in the suburbs, displeased at the conducts of one of the officers, threw a stone at him. This caused him to pursue her, with his sword drawn, which further enflamed the minds of the people, who threw several stones as the soldiers crossed the bridges. Marching up one of the principal streets, another of the officers struck a boy with his sword, which had the tendency of increasing the public irritation. The soldiers were next dismissed in the market place, when two or three of the most obnoxious officers, on their return home, were singled out and out several stones thrown at them. The drum again beat to arms; an abstract of the riot act was read, and the middle of the street near the Cross was cleared by the soldiers, who guarded the opening with fixed bayonets. The soldiers next proceeded to apprehend several persons who were in their way; and as very little discrimination or reflection was used, in a very short time they had marched to the gaol 38 persons, many of them very respectable. So far as we can receive information a single constable during the whole of this evening was not even called for. A Magistrate in waiting about half-past-seven, attended some of the officers to the mess-room. They were followed by the boys, and other persons, who threw some stones, and broke the windows. The command was now given by this Magistrate, to fire in all directions. The market-place and every other place around the soldiers were crowded with thousands of the inhabitants of the city; who, knowing nothing respecting the riot act having been read, and having nothing to do whatever with the affair at Sandsfield, had collected, from motives of curiosity, to learn the cause of this unusual commotion. Every one present believe the military were only firing blank cartridges, and kept their stations, but were soon undeceived by hearing the whistling of the balls, and seeing some of the spectators wounded. We are sorry to add, that a poor unoffending woman, very far advanced in a state of pregnancy, and the wife of one of the soldiers of the 55th, then at Sandsfield, was killed. It is to us as a matter of astonishment, that numbers of the peaceable inhabitants did not share the same fate, as a very great number of balls were next morning found in the streets, and some had perforated the walls of the houses. On Tuesday, the examination of the 38 prisoners was held, who, with the exception of two or three, who were charged with having thrown stones, were all discharged. On that day, the Coroner's inquest was taken on the unfortunate woman, when the jury, after long deliberation, and long continued difference of opinion, returned a verdict of accidental death.

The constitutional conduct of the High Sheriff (Thomas Hartley, Esq. of Linethwaite) cannot be overlooked. So soon as he heard of what had happened, he gave directions that no more prisoners should be received into the gaol without a legal warrant; that they should be escorted to the place for examination, by the civil not the military power; and that every thing should be conducted in a strict conformity to propriety and justice.

The Mayor, on Friday night, send the bellman round the city, requesting a meeting in the Town-hall, next day, at 11 o'clock, for the purpose of entering into a subscription to purchase potatoes, and sell them out to the necessitous at reduced prices.

On Wednesday last, arrived in Carlisle from Durham, part of the 2d dragoon guards.

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